Lawrence Ferlinghetti wrote a poem about a dog. This dog is a “real realist,” which means he looks up and down and smells with his nose and asks questions and doesn’t have any smart answers.
“Dog” is a poem about what it means to live in a world. There are things that matter to the dog, and things that don’t. “The things he sees / are his reality / Drunks in doorways / Moons on trees.” The things that matter to you make up your world, the things that don’t are beyond you. “He doesn’t hate cops / He merely has no use for them.” A dog sees a man, but never a policeman. “He would rather eat a tender cow / than a tough policeman,” so the “dead cows hung up whole” at the meat market are real, while the police fade into the background, ghosts of a doubtful reality.
He sees the “moons on trees,” but he doesn’t see a moon that moves in the sky. Each moon is bright and each sits upon one of the tall trees that line the pavement, dazzling doggy eyes and lighting the way. No depth to his vision: he doesn’t imagine a solar system up there in the night sky. No concept even of sky to hang his moon upon. Just a bright bowl of light on a tree as he “trots freely” underneath. Does he see the stars? The bright things of the night rest upon the trees, or on the edges of rooftops, or even on the tip of his nose. The world is endless, not deep, no end to the things he encounters, to bring him joy.
Sometimes “what he hears is very discouraging / very depressing,” especially when he hears about politics. “But he’s not afraid of Congressman Doyle,” and goes around in “his own free world,” however un-American others might think it. When you have your own world, bright and rich and clear and full of delight, you won’t spend very much time thinking about these spectres, these Doyles and McCarthys.
So Ferlinghetti’s dog doesn’t have much to say about politics. But he does have “something to say / about ontology / something to say / about reality.” He knows that “the things he smells / smell something like himself,” he knows his own doggy being. He knows how to listen and look, when “with his head cocked sideways . . . like a living question mark” he gives his limitless attention to the world. He knows how to evaluate, how to respond, when to trot along, and when to stop.